01/19/2015 11:13 EST | Updated 03/21/2015 05:59 EDT

'Shylock' reference prompts criticism from Jewish group

A Quebec Jewish group is calling out Montreal’s La Presse newspaper for using the term “shylock” to describe predatory money lenders in a feature on the issue.

Luciano Del Negro, vice-president of the Quebec wing of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the term is offensive and carries "anti-semitic overtones."

"This has been used over the centuries, in Europe, to slander and in many ways dehumanize the Jewish members of European society back in the 16th and 17th century and more recently," Del Negro told the CBC Montreal morning show Daybreak.

La Presse used the term several times in the article, which described the rise of loan sharks who gouge their clients with interest rates up to 350 per cent.

The article included a sidebar on the origins of the term, explaining it originates with a Jewish money lender Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

The author of the article, Hugo Meunier, told CBC he didn’t mean to offend and the term is used to describe the practice of money lending.

But Del Negro said that doesn’t make it acceptable.

"It’s not by using Shakespeare that it gives them license to use such offensive language and one which has anti-semitic overtones," he said.

The term has long been derided by Jewish groups. Last September, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden apologized for using the term in a speech after being called out by the Anti-Defamation league.